Estudios de lingüística inglesa aplicada

Estudios de
            lingüística inglesa aplicada


María del Pilar García Mayo
Universidad del País Vasco / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, Spain

         This paper presents an overview of the rationale for the return to
the relevance of L2 form in the communicative language classroom, and
provides ideas about how to draw learners’ attention to formal aspects
of language within the backdrop of a task-based approach to language
teaching. The paper offers an updated review of the approach to
grammar instruction known as Focus-on-Form (FonF), an instructional
option that calls for an integration of grammar and communication in
non-native language teaching, and provides research-informed insights
that might be of use for the classroom practitioner. Several avenues for
research on FonF are also presented, considering new instructional
settings and the access to computer-mediated communication. A call for
the strengthening of the link between second language acquisition (SLA)
research findings and language pedagogy is made as a way to contribute
to more ecologically valid classroom research and pedagogy.
         Key words: Grammar teaching, focus on form, focus on forms,
tasks, interaction
       Este trabajo se centra en los motivos que han llevado a volver
a poner de relieve la pertinencia de la forma lingüística en la enseñanza

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de lenguas dentro de un enfoque comunicativo y proporciona ideas de
cómo hacer que los alumnos dirijan su atención hacia esos aspectos
formales dentro del marco de la enseñanza/aprendizaje por tareas.
El trabajo proporciona una revisión actualizada de la aproximación
didáctica conocida como ‘atención a la forma’, una opción pedagógica
que busca integrar la gramática y la comunicación en la enseñanza
de lenguas no maternas, y proporciona ideas que provienen de las
investigaciones realizadas y que pueden ser útiles para el profesorado.
También se identifican varias líneas de investigación sobre la atención
a la forma teniendo en cuenta nuevos escenarios de enseñanza y el
acceso a la comunicación a través del ordenador. Se aboga por reforzar
la interrelación entre los resultados de las investigaciones sobre la
adquisición de segundas lenguas y la práctica docente para beneficio de
ambos campos.
        Palabras clave: enseñanza de gramática, atención a la forma,
atención a las formas, tareas, interacción

1. Introduction
        How grammar should be taught in order to achieve proficiency
in a foreign or second language (L2) is a question that has concerned
educators and researchers alike for many centuries (Larsen-Freeman,
2009; Nassaji & Fotos, 2004, 2011; see Howatt, 1984, and Kelly, 1969, for
historical reviews). Krashen (1981) brought up the debate about the role
of grammar teaching when he distinguished between the terms acquisition
and learning, and claimed that language should be acquired through natural
exposure, not learned in formal contexts. According to Krashen, formal
grammar teaching had no role to play in the process because grammar
lessons could improve explicit knowledge (also referred to as declarative
or learned), but not implicit knowledge (procedural, acquired) necessary
to use the language appropriately in spontaneous situations. Besides,

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Krashen claimed that there was no interface between the two types of
knowledge because they belonged to different brain systems (DeKeyser,
2001). Formal grammar teaching was also seen as unnecessary from the
perspective of Universal Grammar (UG) approaches; Schwartz (1993),
for example, claimed that L2 learning occurs from the interaction of UG
principles with the input provided.
       The advent of communicative language teaching (CLT)
approaches in the 1970s and 1980s saw the decline of formal language
pedagogy as such because, as Mitchell (2000, p. 285) rightly pointed out:

        […] explicit grammar study was seen as pedantic, lacking in
        intrinsic value and inefficient as a means of developing practical
        communication skills, specially oral skills.

         CLT approaches encourage the use and exchange of realistic
messages in order to present language features (Grim, 2009). Their
emphasis is on the learner’s active participation in the different
communicative tasks s/he has to engage with. A task is a real-life activity
in which meaning is primary and there is a goal to be reached (Skehan,
1998). The development of CLT approaches was based on the necessity
for exposure to comprehensible input as part of the acquisition process
(Sheen & O’Neill, 2005). Overall, CLT is successful if the types of
activities designed for classroom use have a positive effect on learner
motivation (Nunan, 1989). However, extensive research has shown that
a mere focus on meaning and mere exposure to the L2 is not enough
for learners to reach proficiency in the language and to develop their
productive skills (Spada, 2011). In other words, as Pica (2002) points out,
meaning-centered instruction led to low levels of linguistic accuracy (i.e.,
non-target morphology and syntax) and the issue of form was overlooked.
        The role of grammar teaching in the L2 classroom has been
reconsidered in current second language acquisition (SLA) research.

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Researchers have advanced the possibility that there can be an interface
between explicit and implicit knowledge, that is, in the realm of grammar
teaching the practice of grammar rules could be of value when that explicit
teaching affects the acquisition of implicit knowledge (DeKeyser, 2007).
         Within the backdrop of the issues raised above, the purpose of
this paper is to offer an updated review of the approach to grammar
instruction known as Focus-on-Form, henceforth, FonF (Long, 1991),
“an instructional option that calls for an integration of grammar and
communication in L2 teaching” (Nassaji & Fotos, 2011, p. 1). Section
2 reviews the arguments supporting the reconsideration of the role
of grammar instruction in the L2 classroom. Section 3 provides some
definitions of the FonF construct which show its evolution since it was
first proposed and the principal FonF options. Section 4 outlines some
ideas for a task-based FonF approach to grammar instruction on the basis
of empirical studies. Finally, section 5 concludes the paper offering lines
for further research.

2. Why a Return to the Relevance of Grammar Instruction in the L2
Communicative Language Classroom?
        As mentioned above, the FonF approach is based on the
assumption that comprehensible input, though necessary for
acquisition, is insufficient for acquiring the L2 grammar (but see
Laufer, 2005; Sheen & O’Neill, 2005). One of the arguments that led
to an increasing relevance in the focus on formal aspects of language
is the large body of research carried in Canadian French immersion
programs by Merrill Swain and colleagues (Allen, Swain, Harley,
& Cummins, 1990; Harley & Swain, 1984; Swain, 1985 et passim).
After a large number of hours of exposure to meaningful input —
approximately 6000 hours at the end of primary education (Turnbull,
Lapkin, Hart & Swain, 1998)1 —, the learners did not achieve

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grammatical accuracy in certain forms such as gender agreement,
tense marking, and politeness markers (Swain & Lapkin, 1982).
        Research indicating that some kind of attention to form is
necessary for language learning provides a second argument for a
return to the relevance of form in the L2 classroom. Schmidt (1990,
2001) operationalizes that type of attention as noticing, for him a
necessary condition for language learning (but see Truscott, 1998, for
a different view). From an information-processing model perspective
(García Mayo & Perales Haya, 2002; VanPatten, 2007), which posits
that learners have difficulty attending to form and meaning at the
same time (especially at beginner levels), there would be a need
to implement activities that draw their attention to form. Various
SLA researchers agree that some degree of attention is necessary
for the learning process to occur more effectively (DeKeyser, 2007;
Doughty, 2001).
        As mentioned by Nassaji and Fotos (2004), another reason for
the coming back of grammar instruction is based on evidence that L2
learners go through what is referred to as developmental sequences.
Pienemann (1989 et passim) developed his influential Teachability
Hypothesis, which suggests that certain structures can benefit from
explicit grammar teaching if the learner is developmentally ready to
progress to the next stage in his development. More recent research on
the positive role of grammar instruction comes from both laboratory
and classroom studies focusing on specific target language forms but,
especially, from meta-analyses (i.e., a type of study that considers
a large body of separate papers and aims to integrate their main
conclusions). Thus, Norris and Ortega (2000), after analyzing 49
studies on the effectiveness of L2 instruction concluded that explicit
instruction resulted in significant gains that were maintained over time
as compared to implicit instruction. A more recent meta-analysis by
Spada and Tomita (2010) supports that finding as well.

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         In general, most SLA researchers nowadays agree that learners
need some kind of grammar instruction within a communicative approach
and some opportunity to produce language which contains the grammatical
points introduced (Swain 2005 et passim). As Nassaji and Fotos (2011:
11-12) rightly point out, even Savignon, a well-known advocate of CLT,
highlights the value of attention to form in language pedagogy and
suggests that “[…] communicative language teaching does not exclude a
focus on metalinguistic awareness or knowledge of the rules of syntax.”
(2005, p. 645). It is when learners are exposed to formal issues that their
awareness of those forms might be lasting because opaque or advanced
features are made salient and their accuracy might also improve (Spada,
1997). Over the past three decades several researchers have identified
strategies that may increase learners’ metalinguistic sensitivity to input
(for processing instruction and structured input, see Benati (forthcoming);
Benati & Lee, 2008; VanPatten, 1996, 2004, 2007). In what follows we
concentrate on the FonF notion and its principal options.

3. What Is Focus on Form (FonF)?
         In his early work on this notion, Long (1983) suggested that learners
who received formal explicit instruction had an advantage over naturalistic
learners. Long himself (1991) established a distinction between focus on forms
(FonFs) and focus on form (FonF), the former being the traditional approach
to grammar instruction in which the teacher draws the learners’ attention to
isolated language forms without a meaningful context (i.e., through traditional
exercises or drills). On the contrary, Long (1991, pp. 45-46) defined FonF as
“[…] drawing students’ attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally
in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning and communication.” It should
be noticed that in his original definition, Long conceptualizes attention to form
as arising incidentally within a communicative context. In fact, Basturkmen,
Loewen, and Ellis (2004, p. 243) state that “Focus on form is a feature of
communicative language teaching (CLT).”

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        Research throughout the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st
century has expanded Long’s definition. Thus, Ellis (2001, pp. 1-2) wrote
about form-focused instruction (FFI) and defined it as “[…] any planned
or incidental activity that is intended to induce language learners to pay
attention to linguistic form.” The concept includes now both preplanned
and reactive approaches to grammar instruction and is generally
understood as any activity that draws the learners’ attention to form
within a meaningful context (Dougthy, 2001; Doughty & Williams, 1998;
Spada, 1997). The term form, as Ellis (2001) points out, is intended to
include phonological, lexical, grammatical, and pragmalinguistic aspects
of language.
         Ellis, Basturkmen, and Loewen (2002) classified FonF as both
planned and incidental. The former type implies a pre-selection by the
teacher of those forms that are known to be problematic for a certain
group of learners (e.g. the –ed in English regular past tense for Spanish-
speaking learners of L2 English). Some researchers consider planned
FonF an effective, though time-consuming, technique (Doughty &
Varela, 1998). Incidental FonF uses communicative tasks designed to
elicit general samples of language. Some researchers (Loewen, 2003,
2004; 2005; Lyster, 1998; Lyster & Ranta, 1997) have documented that
incidental FonF occurs frequently in meaning-focused classrooms and
have argued for its beneficial effects on L2 acquisition.
        Within incidental FonF, Ellis et al. (2002) distinguish three
possible types:
(I) Reactive FonF: the teacher (T) or another student (S) respond to an error
(1)      Student		          she don’t have children so they don’t have
         Teacher		          she doesn’t
         Student		          she doesn’t
         (Loewen, 2007)

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(II) Pre-emptive FonF: Student-initiated
(2)       Student 1:       […] that is, that is partly, partly inherited, no?
          Student 2        How do you spell that?
          Student 1:       i-n-h-e-r-i-t-e-d? I think... I’m not sure
          (Azkarai Garai & García Mayo, in press)
(III) Pre-emptive FonF: Teacher-initiated
(3)       Teacher:         Today we are going to talk about customs officers.
			                        Do you know what a customs officer means?
          Student:         Frontera?
          (Alcón Soler & García Mayo, 2008)

        FFI, according to Ellis (2001, p. 12) entails “[…] a set of
psycholinguistically motivated pedagogical options”, which are
considered to be motivating when carried out in communicative language
contexts. Ellis (2006) argues for a clear dichotomy between focus on
forms and FonF approaches on the basis of the context in which attention
to form is paid. Thus, in the case of the former, “[…] the context is shaped
by instructional events and/or rubrics that make it clear to the learners that
the essential purpose of the activities […] is to focus on the processing/
use of some specific linguistic feature.” In the case of FonF “[…] the
context is shaped by the teacher presenting the activity as an opportunity
for practicing communication […] attention to form is intended to be
secondary to this overriding purpose, no the main purpose” (p. 23)
        A crucial question is whether particular language features are more
affected by FonF than others (Ellis, 2006; Spada & Lightbown, 2008).
As Spada (2011) points out, little research had been carried out on this
topic up to the recent meta-analysis by Spada and Tomita (2010), possibly

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because of the difficulty of defining the terms simple and complex when
referring to a linguistic structure. Spada and Tomita (2010) defined both
terms on the basis of the number of transformations applied to arrive at
the correct form. Thus, for example, forming a wh-question as object of
a preposition (Who did you talk to?) would be more complex than the
rule of the regular past tense in English. Explicit FFI was found to be
more effective than implicit FFI on both simple and complex structures.
Interestingly, explicit FFI was reported to contribute not only to learners’
conscious knowledge of the target forms, but to their ability to use those
forms in a spontaneous way.

4. A Task-Based FonF Approach
         Ortega (2007) proposes three principles for the design of
meaningful L2 practice in foreign language classrooms, all of them
from a cognitive-interactionist perspective (Gass & Mackey, 2007). The
first principle states that L2 practice should be interactive because L2
research has shown that such practice has linguistic, psycholinguistic,
and sociocognitive benefits argued to be facilitative of L2 development.
The second principle states that L2 practice should be meaningful.
Ortega (2007, p. 183) points out that from a cognitive-interactionist SLA
sense, “[…] meaningful refers to the prerequisite of focus on form, or
concurrent attention to meaning and form during processing (following
Doughty & Williams, 1998; Long, 1997, and Long & Robinson, 1998)”
(emphasis in original). The third principle states that there should be a
focus on task-essential forms, that is, the task that has been designed
should be able to elicit the forms learners have most problems with.
Tasks need to focus on formal aspects of language that are crucial for
its development. In summary, for Ortega (2007, p. 186) “[…] a sound
pedagogical principle is the matching of classroom tasks with essential
form-function mappings”

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        Tasks have become central to both L2 research and pedagogy.
Various tasks characteristics (task modality, task complexity, etc.) are the
focus of current research that intends to show how task-based interaction
plays a facilitative role in language development (García Mayo, 2007).
Tasks that draw learners’ attention to form have also been designed
specifically for L2 classrooms. As Ellis, Loewen, and Basturkmen (2006,
p. 137) state: “Task-based instruction involving FonF serves as one
way in which linguistic form can be addressed extensively (rather than
intensively) and also helps learners develop confidence and fluency in
communicating.” The question that arises is which task design features
may have an impact on the nature of learner language and on the
processing and learning of the L2. In particular, how can L2 teachers
design features that foster learners’ attention to form?
        According to Ellis (2005a) tasks can be manipulated to draw
learners’ attention to form within a communicative context in four ways,
namely, manipulating task design, task planning, learner interaction, and
providing corrective feedback.
         Let us consider each of these scenarios in turn making reference
to different studies illustrating various possibilities. First, research has
shown that two-way tasks with segmented input and with a closed goal
lead to more negotiation of meaning2 than one-way tasks, as members
of a dyad need to join efforts in order to reach their goal. Most studies
on this aspect have been carried out with English as the target language
(see Mackey & Philp, 1998, for questions; Muranoi, 2000, for articles;
Pica, Kang, & Sauro, 2006, for articles and prepositions, among others).
Gilabert, Barón, and Llanes (2009) manipulated the impact of the
cognitive complexity of three different types of oral tasks (a narrative
reconstruction task, an instruction-giving map task, and a decision-
making task) on the interaction of adult Spanish EFL learners organized
in 27 dyads. Their study was carried out within the framework of the
Cognition Hypothesis (Robinson 2001a, 2001b, 2007) which claims that

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increasing task cognitive demands along certain dimensions will push
learners to greater accuracy and complexity in L2 production and will
also promote greater interaction as more communicative breakdowns
will occur. Communicative breakdowns, in turn, are claimed to provide
more opportunities for learning because they generate conversational
episodes (but see Aston, 1986). Gilabert et al. (2009) claim that their study
has found confirmatory evidence for the Cognition Hypothesis: the more
complex a task is, the more it will contribute to interaction, which in turn
helps L2 learners in their linguistic development (Mackey, 2007). More
recently, Nuevo, Adams, and Ross-Feldman (2011) also manipulated task
complexity (operationalized as [± reasoning demands]) and investigated
whether it affected learners’ modified output and the relationship between
output modification and L2 development. The tasks, carried out by a group
of 79 ESL learners, targeted English past tense and locative prepositions.
The findings pointed to complex patterns among level of task complexity,
type of target structure, type of modified output and learning outcomes.
Kim and Tracy-Ventura (2011) focused on the relationship between task
complexity and learner anxiety in the learner-learner interaction of 88
Korean EFL learners’ development of past tens morphology. The findings
of their study showed that more complex tasks were more facilitative of
past tense development than simple tasks and that low-anxiety learners
showed more tense development than high-anxiety learners.3
        Secondly, tasks can be manipulated with the goal of drawing
learners’ attention to form by means of task planning (Ellis 2005a,
2005b). Thus, Foster and Skehan (1996) studied the influence of different
implementation conditions (unplanned, planned but without detail, and
detailed planning) on the variables of fluency, complexity and accuracy
while learners performed personal information exchange, narrative,
and decision-making tasks. These researchers reported strong effects of
planning on fluency and clear effects on complexity, but a more complex
relationship between planning and accuracy, curiously with the most

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accurate performance by the learners who had less detailed planning. In
a further study, Foster and Skehan (1999) considered different sources
of planning (teacher-led, solitary and group-based) and different foci for
planning (content vs. language). Their findings pointed to the teacher-
fronted condition as the one generating significant accuracy effects while
the solitary planning condition had greater influence on complexity,
fluency, and turn length. All these research findings may have pedagogical
implications regarding informed decisions teachers can make on the basis
of their specific goals.
         Ortega (1999) explicitly draws on FonF research to investigate
whether planning opportunities result in an increased FonF both at the
level of strategic attention to form during planning time and also regarding
production outcomes at the level of task performance. Her data come from
the oral interaction of 64 adult native speakers of American English who
were learners of Spanish and completed a story-telling task. Her findings
provide support for the claim that “[…] planning before doing an L2
task can promote an increased focus on form by providing space for the
learner to devote conscious attention during pretask planning to form and
systematic aspects of the language needed to accomplish a particular task.”
(Ortega, 1999, p. 109). Yuan and Ellis (2003) argue that pre-task planning
enhances grammatical complexity while on-line planning, that is, planning
while performing the task, positively influences accuracy and grammatical
complexity. More recently, Park (2010) designed an experimental study in
which he isolated pretask instructions from planning, two variables that
seem to have been interwoven in previous research and, thus, could have
misled the findings reported regarding what caused the improvement in
planned performance. In his study, 110 Korean EFL learners completed
two oral picture narrative tasks in dyads during a two-week period under
four conditions (specific instructions with pretask planning, specific
instructions without planning, general instructions with planning, and
general instructions without planning). His study concludes that while

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pretask instructions revealed some role for manipulating attention to form,
planning did not have any effect. An issue that is recently being considered
is that of pretask modelling. Thus, Kim and McDonough (2011) studied
the impact of this variable on the collaborative learning opportunities of
44 Korean EFL learners when carrying out three collaborative tasks. The
findings of their study indicated that those learners who received pretask
modelling produced more language-related episodes (LREs) -Swain, 1998-
and correctly resolved an important proportion of those than learners who
did not receive any models. Their collaboration opportunities and pair
dynamics were also better.
         A third way to foster learners’ attention to form is by means of
their interaction in collaborative tasks. According to sociocultural theory,
human cognitive development is a socially situated activity mediated by
language (Vygotsky, 1978), that is, knowledge is socially constructed by
interaction and is then internalised. Individuals learn how to carry out a new
function with the help of an expert (in an expert/novice pair) and then they
can perform individually. Speaking is a cognitive tool that can be used by
learners to regulate themselves, others, and objects (e.g., language and tasks)
(Brooks, Donato, & McGlone, 1997; see Gánem-Gutiérrez, forthcoming in
press, for a detailed update of sociocultural theory). By speaking about a
problem or the procedures for completing a task, the learners gain control
of the situation and can organize, plan, and coordinate their actions and the
actions of their peers.
         Several studies (Storch, 2002; Swain, Brooks, & Tocalli-Beller,
2002) have demonstrated the impact of peer-peer dialogue on second
language learning. Through interaction learners regulate or restructure
their knowledge and they are provided with the possibility to develop not
only their linguistic skills but also their problem-solving capacities. From
this perspective, collaborative dialogue is language learning mediated by
language. Several collaborative tasks such as dictogloss (Wajnryb, 1990),
text-reconstruction, or jigsaw foster dialogue among the members of

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the dyad and offer opportunities to improve the knowledge of the target
language (Alegría de la Colina & García Mayo, 2007, 2009; Basterrechea
& García Mayo, 2010, forthcoming; García Mayo, 2001, 2002a, 2002b,
2005; Kowal & Swain, 1997; Leeser, 2004; Storch, 2007). It is precisely
when performing these types of collaborative tasks that learners pay
attention to formal aspect of the language. Swain (1998, p. 70) defined
the construct of language-related episode (LRE) as a segment of the
learners’ dialogue in which they talk about language, question, and/or
correct (explicitly or implicitly) their interlocutor’s language use while
trying to complete the task. LREs have been widely used as a unit of
analysis in FonF research because they are signs that learners are paying
attention to form. They also provide insights into their mental processes
while they are working and may represent learning in progress (Donato,
1994; Swain & Lapkin, 1998). Consider the following examples:
(4)       Student 1: We will talk about the main advantages of
          Student 2: Aha
          Student 1: In general terms, containerization I think we should omit ‘the’
          Student 2: Yes, I was going to say that too
          (Alegría de la Colina & García Mayo, 2007, p. 99)
(5)       Student 1:… muchos personas o muchas personas?
          Student 2: muchas personas
          Student 1: Sí, muchas personas
          (Leeser, 2004, p. 65)
        These two examples are excerpts from longer interactions the
learners were engaged in when completing collaborative tasks. In (4),
student 1 reflects on the use of the definite article in English and in
(5) student 1 is unsure about the gender of the Spanish noun persona

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(‘person’). Both examples illustrate how learners focus on formal aspects
of the languages they are learning (English and Spanish, respectively)
without the teacher intervening in the conversation.
         Finally, learners’ attention to form can be fostered by means
of feedback for correction, provided by the teacher or by other learners.
Leeman (2007, p. 112) defines feedback as “[…] a mechanism which
provides the learner with information regarding the success or failure
of a given process. By definition, feedback is responsive and thus can
occur only after a given process.” Feedback can vary greatly in the form
it takes when provided to learners (verbal and non-verbal, for example)
and corrective feedback is often viewed as a continuum from explicit
to implicit. Explicit corrective feedback refers to situations in which the
interlocutor (a native speaker, a teacher, or another learner) provides
linguistic information about the non-target-like nature of the utterance
that has been produced. Implicit corrective feedback is an indirect and
less obtrusive way to show that learners’ utterances are problematic and
is of more interest within the interactional model.
          As pointed out by Nassaji and Simard (2010), a considerable
body of research has examined whether communicative tasks that contain
some kind of interactional feedback promote language acquisition (Ellis
et al., 2006; Lyster & Ranta, 1997; Mackey, 2006; Panova & Lyster, 2002,
among many others). The findings in those studies suggest that if the
feedback provided is salient enough and perceived as such by the learners,
it contributes to L2 acquisition. A recent study by Erlam and Loewen
(2010) investigates the effectiveness of implicit and explicit corrective
feedback on noun-adjective agreement errors among native speakers of
English learning French. Their study did not show a significant effect
of type of feedback but, interestingly, it did show an overall effect for
interaction. Nassaji (2010) explores the impact of preemptive and reactive
FonF on certain language features in data from 54 hours of classroom
interaction within seven intact ESL classes at three levels of proficiency.

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His study revealed that (i) both reactive and preemptive FonF occurred
but the latter led to higher individualized post-test scores; (ii) different
types of FonF have different impact on learning the targeted forms, and
(iii) the amount, type and effectiveness of FonF were strongly related to
the learners’ level of proficiency in the L2.
         Although most research carried out on the potential impact
feedback might have on drawing learners’ attention to form has focused on
adult learners, some recent studies have shown that feedback techniques
are also crucial to foster metalinguistic awareness among young children.
Thus, Bouffard and Sarkar (2008) devised pedagogical techniques that
enable young learners (8 year olds) to develop their metalinguistic
awareness. They designed tasks that encouraged the learners to correct
their non-target utterances. The classroom teacher (one of the researchers)
provided corrective feedback on different types of errors and both teacher
and learners’ interactions were recorded to be watched later on by the
learners. The findings of their study showed that the young learners were
able to negotiate form and do a grammatical analysis of their errors. Fujii
and Mackey (2009) used learning diaries to draw learners’ attention to
form, although theirs were adult Japanese EFL learners.
        In summary, several research studies over the past years
have manipulated tasks to draw learners’ attention to form within a
communicative context in at least four ways: manipulating task design,
task planning, learner interaction, and providing feedback for correction
(see Table 1 below). Much more research is needed along these lines
though, as well as on other issues that have not been mentioned here due
to space constraints. Thus, how student-generated FonF varies depending
on factors such as (i) the learners’ proficiency level (Leeser, 2004;
Williams, 1999), (ii) the different tasks used to foster interaction (Alegría
de la Colina & García Mayo, 2007; García Mayo 2002a, 2002b; Storch,
1998; Yilmaz, 2011), and (iii) pair and group dynamics (Morris & Tarone,
2003; Storch, 2002), among others. Also, from the teacher’s perspective,

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the role of individual differences (novice vs. experienced teachers) has
been claimed to have an impact on the use of FonF techniques (Mackey,
Polio, & McDonough, 2004).

  Task design   • Mackey & Philp (1998) L2 English question formation. If
                                        the learner developmental level was
                                        appropriate, then there was a greater
                                        stage increase when provided with
                                        intensive recasts in interaction.

                • Muranoi (2000)           L2 English article use. Task design had
                                           positive effects on the restructuring of
                                           the learners’ interlanguage regarding
                                           article use.
                • Pica et al. (2006)       L2 English. Both articles and
                                           prepositions.     Learners     identified,
                                           solved, and resolved problems related
                                           to target items with jigsaw and grammar
                                           communication tasks.
                • Gilabert et al. (2009    L2 English. The more complex the task,
                                           the more it contributed to interaction and
                                           learner language development.
                • Nuevo et al. (2011)      L2 English. Past tense and locative
                                           prepositions. Complex patterns among
                                           level of task complexity, type of target
                                           structure, type of modified output, and
                • Kim & Tracy-Ventura L2 English. Past tense morphology and
                  (2011)              learner anxiety. Complex tasks more
                                      facilitative of past-tense development; low
                                      anxiety learners showed more past-tense
 Task planning • Foster & Skehan (1996) Strong effects of planning on fluency;
                                        clear effects on complexity; complex
                                        relationship between planning and

                                                               ELIA 11, 2011, pp. 11-45
28                                                    María del Pilar García Mayo

                   • Foster & Skehan (1999) Various L1s. L2 English. Teacher-led
                                            planning generated significant accuracy
                                            effects, fluency, and turn length.
                   • Ortega (1999)           L1 English. L2 Spanish (advanced
                                             level). Pre-task planning did promote
                                             increased FonF.
                   • Yuan & Ellis (2003)     L1 Chinese. L2 English. Pre-task
                                             planning     enhanced   grammatical
                                             complexity while on-line planning
                                             positively influenced accuracy and
                                             grammatical complexity.
                   • Park (2010)             L2 English. L1 Korean. Pre-task
                                             instructions played some role in
                                             manipulating attention to form; planning
                                             did not.
                   • Kim & McDonough L2 English. L1 Korean. Pre-task
                     (2011)          modeling led to more —and correctly
    Learner        • García Mayo (2002a)     L2 English (advanced). L1 Spanish. Text
  interaction.                               reconstruction and
 Collaborative     • García Mayo (2002b)     L2 English (advanced). L1 Spanish.
     tasks                                   Text reconstruction, dictogloss, cloze,
                                             multiple choice, text editing. FonF
                                             was task-dependent; grammar features
                                             targeted not always interpreted as such
                                             by the learners.
                   • Leeser (2004)           L2 Spanish. L1 English. Dictogloss. How
                                             proficiency affected the amount and nature
                                             (lexical vs. grammatical) and outcome
                                             (correct, unresolved, incorrect) of LREs.
                   • Alegría de la Colina & L2 English (low proficiency). L1
                     García Mayo (2007)     Spanish. Jigsaw, dictogloss, and text
                                            editing. All effective at drawing FonF
                                            and engaging learners in metatalk.
                   • Storch (2007)           L2 English. Learners asked to correct
                                             a short text based on one produced
                                             by an ESL student. Learners working
                                             collaboratively were engaged in
                                             interaction and reflection about language

ELIA 11, 2011, pp. 11-45
The relevance of attention to L2 ...                                                      29

                  • Alegría de la Colina & L2 English (low proficiency). L1
                    García Mayo (2009)     Spanish. Use of L1 in collaborative tasks
                                           (jigsaw, dictogloss, and text editing) to
                                           provide essential cognitive support to
                                           focus attention on formal and semantic
                  • Basterrechea &               L2 English. L1s Spanish and Basque.
                     García Mayo (2010,          CLIL and EFL classes. Target item: 3rd
                                                 person morpheme –s. Dictogloss had
                     forthcoming)                more positive results in CLIL classes;
                                                 more correlation between use of target
                                                 item in LRE and written output.
                  • Bouffard      &     Sarkar L2 French. L1 English. 8-year-old
 Provision of
                     (2008)                    learners. When provided with corrective
                                               feedback, learners were able to negotiate
                                               form and become aware of their errors.
                  • Earlam       &    Loewen L2     French.     L1English       (adults).
                     (2010)                  Effectiveness of implicit and explicit
                                             corrective feedback on N+Adj agreement
                                             errors. No significant effect of feedback
                                             type, but overall effect for interaction.
                  • Nassaji (2010)               L2 English. 54 hours of interaction
                                                 in 7 intact classes. Three levels of
                                                 proficiency. Pre-emptive FonF led
                                                 to higher individualized test-scores
                                                 than reactive FonF. Amount, type, and
                                                 effectiveness of FonF related to learners’
                                                 proficiency level.

   Table 1. Summary of ways to draw learners’ attention to form

5. Conclusion and Lines for Further Research
       The main goal of this paper has been twofold: to present
an overview of the rationale for the relevance of L2 form in the
communicative language classroom, and to provide ideas about how

                                                                     ELIA 11, 2011, pp. 11-45
30                                              María del Pilar García Mayo

to draw learners’ attention to form within the backdrop of a task-based
approach to language teaching.
         Several issues in need of further research were pointed out at the
end of the previous section but there are many more research avenues
waiting to be explored. Thus, among others, we should mention the need
to do research on whether or not attention to form is an issue of concern in
classrooms where the recent educational approach known as Content and
Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is implemented (Mehisto, Frigols,
& Marsh, 2008). Preliminary studies in other contexts have shown
that teacher-dominated discussion is the prevalent mode of classroom
discourse in content-based classrooms. Teachers rarely provide incidental
attention to form in response to students’ non-target-like utterances but,
rather, they react to the value of the content of those utterances (Pica,
2002). Grim (2009) found that a planned FonF technique was effective in
a content-enriched instruction lesson in learning L2 grammar, vocabulary,
and cultural content in intermediate French L2 learners; Lyster (2004)
suggests that effective FFI in immersion contexts should include a
balanced distribution of opportunities for noticing, language awareness,
and controlled practice with feedback.
         Other issues in need of further research are (i) task modality: the
speaking-writing connection, that is, the comparison between learners’
attention to form in tasks that require only spoken output with those that
require both written and spoken language production (Adams & Ross-
Feldman, 2008; Azkarai Garai & García Mayo, in press), (ii) a focus on
specific grammar constructions (Yang & Lyster, 2010) and on pronunciation
(Saito & Lyster, in press), (iii) the study of the impact that FFI might have
depending on learners’ individual differences such as age, anxiety, aptitude,
learning styles and motivation, (iv) the extent to which different tasks used
in synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC) draw learners’
attention to form (Yilmaz, 2011) and (v) the study of social considerations
(avoidance of peer correction, task orientation, empathy with partners)

ELIA 11, 2011, pp. 11-45
The relevance of attention to L2 ...                                           31

in classroom interaction (Philp, Walter, & Basturkmen, 2010), to name a
few. Besides, as seen above, task features can be manipulated to encourage
greater attention to form but much more systematic research is needed in
intact classrooms where, as rightly pointed out by Philp et al. (2010, p. 275)
“[…] tasks features alone may not predict incidence or quality of focus on
form: what the students bring to the task is important, both individually and
collectively.” Reflection on FonF activities and their relevance in second/
foreign language classrooms should be a must in teacher training courses
(García Mayo, in press). In fact, the link between SLA research findings
and L2 pedagogy needs to be strengthened in such a way that professional
development is “research-based and practitioner-informed”, if we borrow
part of the title of the book by Fortune and Menke (2010)—reviewed by
Lightbown (2011). Both researchers and practitioners would benefit from
collaboration that would lead to more ecologically valid classroom research.

         I would like to thank the editors of ELIA for inviting me to write
this article. Thanks also go to the following research grants: FF12009-
10264 and CSD2007-00012 (Spanish Ministry of Education) and IT-311-
10 (Basque Government).

1. See Lapkin and Mady (2009) and Marshall (2011) for more information
   on French as a second language instruction in Canada.
2. Negotiation of meaning is a type of conversational interaction that
   takes place between learners and their interlocutors when one of them
   indicates that the other’s message has not been successfully conveyed.
3. The interested reader should read Robinson (2011) for updated research
   on task complexity.

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32                                             María del Pilar García Mayo

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